Why Do We Need Mercy When We Can Have Justice Instead?

It is a basic sign of a virtuous person that he or she is interested in the question of justice, and it is an even greater virtue to be interested in doing what can be done to bring more justice into the world. Justice, after all, simply means “rightness”, and it implies the existence of a law of the universe to which we are all beholden—a divine law, even!—and not simply “laws of men.” We know that some human laws, after all, are unjust, and we appeal to a higher standard of rightness when we criticize human laws “in the name of justice.”

So the virtuous citizen is always committed to justice in his city, his society. He wants to see justice done to others, and he wants to act according to justice himself. It becomes a problem, however, when making a public call for “justice” becomes fashionable in society, because simply obeying fashion is not virtuous. Though obeying fashion may be relatively harmless when it comes to dressing ourselves, it isn’t harmless at all when it comes to the practice of the civic virtues. Being fashionable is, after all, simply following the crowd. The crowd may be headed in basically the right direction, or it may not be. But in any case, fashion doesn’t serve the true and the good, it only serves itself, and so right and wrong do not matter to it. When I make the serious business of being a good citizen merely about whatever happens to be fashionable, I’ve put my society, and therefore myself, in danger.

The current fashion of clamoring for “justice” for this or that aggrieved or oppressed minority in society is steadily becoming a problem because, like with any fashion, it is rarely accompanied by a serious and ongoing conversation about what justice is or would be for human beings in that situation. Any political demand nowadays is simply reducible to a shout for “justice”, where “justice” simply means some political agenda or other. But public shouting simply isn’t compatible with reason or with peace. It is, in fact, a form of violence, and violence can never bring about justice. When I make violence and coercion my primary political tool, my primary technique in relating with my fellow human beings in the public square, I have in fact renounced justice. I have given up on the possibility of justice, and placed my hope solely in power.

Now in fact this replacement of justice by power is the story of the fallen human world. We only compound the tragic irony of human history when we engage in the fashionable shouting and “virtue signaling” that tries to pass for public discourse today. Easter is the story of the victory of justice in the world by the God who has introduced into the world, not mere divine power, but rather Divine Mercy. In Christ, God has introduced into the human world that one element without which we could never regain lost justice no matter how hard we tried. That element is mercy: the possibility of making a new start, a fresh start. Divine Mercy means the possibility of redemption, of the remaking of human nature. We partake in the renewal of justice in the world when we accept the work that Christ has done for us, and live lives worthy of the mercy he has granted us. We embrace the possibility of redemption by truly making a new start. We who have received mercy can become those who can truly offer it in our world. When we do this, we become peacemakers, the true “social justice warriors.”